Ma’ruf al-Qallab was born in 1977 in the southern province of Daraa. He studied Law at the University of Damascus and travelled several times to Lebanon to work during summer vacations before he finally settled in Beirut. He has been working as a janitor since 2009.
“The Syrian and Lebanese people are very similar. They have basically the same way of thinking” Ma’ruf says. “Many Lebanese people go to Syria and many Syrians come to Lebanon. Nothing so strange about that. We simply get to know each other.”
Ma'ruf did not try to find work that made use of his diploma. That is to say, he did not try to compete with a Lebanese person. He works as a janitor in a building, a simple job, he says, for those who do not have primary education.“Here in Lebanon, university degrees carry real weight. Imagine that a graduate of a Lebanese Faculty of Law works as a janitor! It is difficult to imagine. However, we have learned to accept everything because of the events that have taken place in Syria. Many Syrians are doing jobs like mine although they have university degrees” Ma’ruf says.
Ma'ruf has not built an extensive network of relationships in Lebanon since his family has stayed in Syria. Although he has some relatives and brothers who live in Lebanon, each one of them is busy with life and work. The nature of his job requires him to be present all the time in the building he is responsible for and his friends visit him at his place whenever they want. However, even during holidays, he can only leave for a few hours and he spends that time in central Beirut or playing football.
Ma’ruf says, “I played soccer in Syria and have brought this passion here with me. I love it and I play with the Lebanese people from my region and other areas. Today, for example, I have a game in 'Aramun with a group of Lebanese players and I'm the only Syrian among them. I believe that this type of activity encourages coexistence, love and the building of social relations.”
The way Ma'ruf is treated by Lebanese people has not changed since the Syrian exodus to Lebanon started in 2011 up. He says, “Before the displacement wave, there were few Syrians here. A young man used to work and send money to his family in Syria but now both the young man and his family are living here. The numbers are large and the situation is changing. I sometimes hear Syrians are competing with the Lebanese for work. The legal procedures for the Syrians' permits may be more difficult and the Lebanese government has the right to make any decision. But for me personally, nothing has changed”.
The stay long in Lebanon has brought psychological consequences for Ma'ruf. He was supposed to stay for about six months or perhaps a year and then come back to study in Syria but time went on. “It saddens me how all these years have gone by here with nothing to show for them. I was supposed to be a lawyer. However, I still have the ambition to go back in order to pursue my law career”, he explains.